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August 31, 2006

מלחמת האדם הזקן


You're looking here at the cover of the Hebrew edition of Old Man's War, which as far as I know is the first foreign-language edition of the book to hit the streets. I snagged it from this online Hebrew bookstore, which in turn was forwarded to me by Whatever reader Abigail Nussbaum. Thanks Abigail! Someone who knows Hebrew will have to tell me what that page says, and if, indeed, "סקאלזי ג`ון" is, as I suspect, my name in Hebrew.

The Israeli publisher is obliged to send copies of the novel my way; I can't wait to get a copy in my own little hands. Having one's first foreign edition is cool.

Posted by john at August 31, 2006 08:12 AM

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Dean | August 31, 2006 08:39 AM

Interesting cover art. It doesn't scream 'scifi' to me, but it is reminiscent (sp?) of a lot of covers from, I think, the late 60s, when we went through a period where the cover bore little relation to what was inside.

Jeff Hentosz | August 31, 2006 09:16 AM

Nice. I agree with Dean it recalls those 60s abstract-covered paperbacks (which I love). But I think it's entirely evocative of a far-future war story. I don't think I've seen a Semitic script that in-your-face before. It looks like something you'd find spray-painted on the side of an oil platform by strikers. And the figure looks like the graffiti an alien teenager might make after those weird human soldiers in armored space suits left town.

Will "scifantasy" Frank | August 31, 2006 09:30 AM

I can't speak Hebrew, but I can read it, and indeed, "ג`ון סקאלזי" is as close as I can see for "Jon Scalzi."

Letter by letter analysis, dredging memories from years of Hebrew School (don't forget, Hebrew reads from left to right):

Gimel (g); yud (in this case, a sort of pause or emphasis, probably used to imply more of a 'j' sound since 'j' doesn't exist in Hebrew); Vav (o, in this case); Final Nun (n appearing at a word's end); space; Samech (s); Koof (k); aleph (silent, but with the implication of an 'a' sound which doesn't appear--there are no vowels in non-Biblical Hebrew); Lamed (l); Zayin (z); and yud again (this time, to indicate an 'i' sound, I believe).

(This part, I'm using a Hebrew dictionary for.)

As to the title, the middle word, האדם, would be "ha-adam," and "adam" means "man" as well as meaning "Adam." "Ha-" means "the"; so far we have "the man."

The last word, הזקן, is "ha-zukon," and "zukon" would be "old" (well, "adam zukon" would be "old man," and I'm betting, for that matter, that the etymology of "alta kocker" is in there somewhere...).

The first word, then, מלחמת "milchamah," is "war"--and this is the case.

So I guess the literal translation would be "War of the old man."

Anna | August 31, 2006 09:31 AM

Presuming I remember my Sunday School lessons:

ג is Gimmel, giving the "G"
` would be a vowel giving the "o" sound in "John"
(the next two letters wouldn't copy for some reason)
- The 3rd character is a vav, which is a placeholder for the vowel, which would generally be placed above it. It is silent in this context.
- The last character is a nun sofit, the end-of-word form of the letter nun, giving the "N"

ס is I believe Samech, giving the "S"
ק is Kof "K"
א is Alef (silent)
ל is Lamed "L"
ז is Zayin "Z"
י I'm not sure, guess it's a variation on the vowel that makes the "i" sound from what I can find.

I would say it's a close approximation to your name.

Anna | August 31, 2006 09:32 AM

Beat me to it, Will!

DonBoy | August 31, 2006 10:30 AM

"Alte kocker" is from the German side of the Yiddish family tree, "alte" being german for "old".

AliceB | August 31, 2006 10:44 AM

Y'know, I really, really like that cover. It says "all grown up and cool" in a dark way.


Chang | August 31, 2006 11:26 AM

Daddy, can I use a curse word?

John Scalzi | August 31, 2006 11:27 AM

I'm so not your daddy, Chang. Although I suspect I know what's coming next.

Chang | August 31, 2006 11:32 AM

That I'm gonna say it's a f*cking rad cover?

It is awesome. I decided after listeining/watching your talk yesterday I'm going to read "War of the Old Man" over again. Seems I missed some poignant writing in it.

kevin | August 31, 2006 11:33 AM

I love that cover -- much better than that of the US version.

Speaking of which, I wonder how much research goes itn the cover designs? Did US and Israeli marketing people sit down and show alternate covers to potential readers they way they try out new commericals? Or is it still a matter of expirience and artists' tastes when it comes to cover designs?

Carol Elaine | August 31, 2006 11:34 AM

I agree: very Sixties and very cool.

BTW, finally picked up The Ghost Brigades yesterday. I'm only 27 pages into it, but I'm really liking it!

Not that I'm surprised...

Brian Greenberg | August 31, 2006 11:40 AM

I concur on the Hebrew analysis, except to point out that biblical Hebrew is the one without the vowels. (the Torah has no vowels). When it's written more informally (like in a newspaper, for instance), that's when you see vowels. Fluent readers, though, can read the text just as well with or without vowels. (m sr yv ll sn ths bfr, bt th sm s bsclly tr n nglsh)

Anyway, if you're interested, there'd be a dot above the third character (reading right to left), signifying the "oh" sound, there'd be a horizontal line under the aleph (third character in the second word), signifying "ah", and a dot under the yud (last character, second word), representing the "eee" sound. A fluent reader would probably pronounce your name "G-yon Sc-ah-lzi", which is probably as close as you're going to get with the Hebrew alphabet...

Thus concludes my expertise in foreign languages (unless you have some 2nd grade Spanish you need translated...)

Jeff Hentosz | August 31, 2006 11:44 AM


As a matter of fact -- can you tell where the library is?

Corey Porter | August 31, 2006 12:06 PM

Wow. Great cover art.

Adam Rakunas | August 31, 2006 12:18 PM

That reminds me of this Flickr pool filled with covers of 60s foreign edition SF paperbacks. I'll have to poke around and find it again...

Adam Rakunas | August 31, 2006 12:21 PM

Though, just to get the ball rolling, here are a jillion SF magazine covers.

Adam Rakunas | August 31, 2006 12:30 PM

Aha! This was the Flickr set. Portuguese SF covers.

Naomi | August 31, 2006 12:40 PM

"Gyon Scahlzi" was what I came up with, from my long-ago Hebrew school days.

There isn't a J sound in Hebrew. It's sometimes rendered with the Y (Yeshua for Joshua, Yoseph for Joseph, etc.) but I think "Gy" is actually a better substitute for the English J. It may be that this is understood by Hebrew speakers to be the English J.

Yaron | August 31, 2006 12:47 PM

OK, some corrections about the Hebrew. I'm an Israeli, born in Israel, and living here for close to 30 years now, so I do know what I'm talking about (in this particular regard, anyway).

The two little characters ' there in the name are two *entirely different* ones.
The first one, in John, is a diacritic mark that indicates the first letter (Gimel) is to pronounced like a J rather than a G. It's the same letter in Hebrew, and without the diacritics it would have been Gon Scalzi.
The one at the end of Scalzi is indeed the letter Yud, which is equivalent to Y and I.
If you'd notice they're looking slightly different. It's not the same character, and the name is in the exact same font throughout. It's very similar to Yud, but it isn't it, isn't related, and isn't a stand-alone character.

So nobody would pronounce it G-Yon. It's obviously Jon or John.

I also don't get why everyone claims the Alef in Scalzi in silent. Is the name pronounced sclzi? Up until this moment I always imagined that it is indeed pronounced Skal-Zi, and that's exactly the way it's written in Hebrew. So a fluent Hebrew reader will read it as about Jon Skal-zi, like a fluent English reader will, I think, read John Scalzi.

As for the book Name, the last work (on the left. Hebrew is Right to Left, not Left to Right as I think Will Frank wrote by mistake) is technically hazkn (or hzkn), since Hebrew indeed doesn't use vowels. But the only word that matches would be HaZaken (Not Zukon, but Zaken) , meaning The Old.
Hebrew indeed doesn't use vowels to make vowels, but other special diacritic marks (hmm, not sure diacritics is the exact terms here. Small dots around the letters) for most of the vowel sounds.
These are indeed found in the bible, and text for small children, and nobody else bothers with them ever. Heh, most adults will take a hard time to read them properly and separate between more than the 2-3 most common ones.

The first word of the book's name is "Milchemet"/"Milkhemet" not "milchamah".
The difference is in the last letter, Taf (a T equivalent), which replaces the last letter Heh, not present here (The first one on Ha-Adam in the next word), and which indicates possessiveness.
And changes the sound of the whole word, which is again something not written inside the word with vowels, but which any decent local reader should handle easily.
Without the change it would indeed have been "Milchama" meaning war. With it, the meaning is "War of". So is a pretty good translation of "Old Man's War", even if technically it's "War of the Old Man". But that IS about as close as you can get.

OK, that concludes, I think, the Hebrew lesson for today.

And congratulations, John!

gottacook | August 31, 2006 12:50 PM

FYI, the apostrophe-like character to the left of the gimel in "Jon" (ג`ון) is not the letter yod; in modern Israeli Hebrew it modifies, in this case, the hard G of gimel into a "J" sound. (Two other Hebrew letters are similarly modified to make the sounds "CH" and "ZH"; none of the three sounds J, CH, and ZH are normally available in Hebrew.) I've heard this mark informally referred to as a "chubchik" -- a Russian word, evidently.

Rotem | August 31, 2006 12:52 PM

I'm not sure you need another hebrew comment here, but I'll try to add some info (I'm Israeli, here in the US as a student). The white text on the top of the cover is a direct translation of the recommendation by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer which says: "Smartly conceived and thoroughly entertaining, 'Old Man's War' is a splendid novel."

Will was mostly right with everything. His thought that the apostrophe (not a 'yud') after the 'ג' at the beginning of your name (in hebrew) is used in modern hebrew (in Israel) to change its sound from the 'G' sound to the 'J' sound was correct.
He's wrong about how you would pronounce the last word, 'הזקן'. It should sound like "ha-za-ken" and not "zukon".
Anna And Brian has some errors with the hebrew analysis, but I won't go into it.

The post sound a bit nitpicking, but I thought John should have the correct info about HIS book.

Rotem | August 31, 2006 12:54 PM

One little thing to add, the book has one anonymous, 5-start review that says: "Amazing Book". Short but correct.

Yaron | August 31, 2006 12:56 PM

Oh, and Naomi... Hebrew is closer to the original names the biblical names has been pronounced. Really.
The names were, and are in Hebrew still, Yosef, Yehoshua, etc. This J there is the new(er) modification. Despite the fact that English does have the letters I and Y and could use them.

I do admit that it sounds strange in English to use the Hebrew rendering of the names, but I'm not sure if that's a cause or an effect.

Irene | August 31, 2006 01:30 PM

That's awesome! I wish we could get away with more stuff that looks like that here.

Jenny Rae Rappaport | August 31, 2006 01:30 PM

I'd chime in with my Hebrew knowledge, but everyone has beaten me to it...

I will say though, that instead of your name being translated directly, you should have been given an entirely new Hebrew name. That would have been infinitely cooler. I mean, thousands of Jewish kids get them at birth; why not a SF author in his 30s then?

And they often sound absolutely nothing like your English name... mine, for example is Sura Ruchel (that's the Yiddish pronunciation), which sounds nothing like Jenny Rae. =)

Will "scifantasy" Frank | August 31, 2006 02:04 PM

Hebrew is Right to Left, not Left to Right as I think Will Frank wrote by mistake

Yes, that was a screwup...it was a busy morning, and I didn't pay quite enough attention. Oy.

As to pronounciation, punctuation, and some of the lettering, thanks for the corrections, guys. The "no vowels except where specifically put in" thing always gets me, and I think of all the vowels I put in as schwas--as close to being unsounded as they can be. Besides, most of the Hebrew I read has the vowels, seeing as it's in a siddur.

Shiffer | August 31, 2006 03:09 PM

Wow, I haven't seen so much redundant Hebrew analysis for a long time now.

The translation is absolutely correct, though I have to admit that the name is considerably more cumbersome in Hebrew then it is in English. This is often the case with translated titles, and should have no bearing on how the book does (which should be very well, all local-market-parameters considered).

Ted Lemon | August 31, 2006 05:38 PM

Wow, I am such a loser. I absolutely *hate* that cover. I mean, in terms of cool, it is of course totally cool that you have a book in a completely different writing system. But the cover art. Gnah! It's so bleakly modernist that it makes my teeth itch. Pomo is cool for a *reason*, kids!

alkali | August 31, 2006 06:25 PM

Mazel tov!

I for one am looking forward to the Yiddish version: "Green skin? For this I joined the army?"

Steve Buchheit | September 1, 2006 01:04 PM

Posted in a different thread but thought I would repeat here. I just started "Ghost Brigades" (haven't read "Old Mans War" yet) last week. In the first chapter hit the line, "Leave it to you humans to bang the rocks together" (or some such, quoting from memory here). Nearly fell off the couch. I love Douglas Adams. It was then that I told myself I had to read all your other books.

Congrats on the cover, John. Looks very 60's underground, Russian pre-WWII, Man with the Golden Arm but with a darker tinge. As a designer, it rocks. Now, if the paper used has a tooth and they leave the printer dust on it for a gritty feel... I think I'd be in graphics heaven.

Tamora Pierce | September 1, 2006 03:26 PM

Mazel tov! You got two in one--your first foreign language publication, and your first publication in a non-Roman alphabet! (I had to wait 19 years for the latter.) I hope you see many more foreign language books soon, in Roman and non-Roman type!

Tammy Pierce
(who you met at Great Lakes Book Association)

Raz Greenberg | September 2, 2006 02:00 AM

First of all… Hi! My name is Raz, and I'm the the Hebrew tranlator of "Old Man's War". I'm glad to see the translation has sparked so much enthusiasm here, going as far as giving people Hebrew lessons :-)
As for some of the questions posted here: the cover artist received a detailed synopsis of the book, written by me, before he started working. Most covers of SF and Fantasy literature here in Israel are indeed of the "Abstract" kind, and I'm glad to see people like it (though personally I always envied you on the other side of the world for having all those cool starships and dragons on your book covers…).
I agree that the Hebrew title chosen for the book, while accurate, is somewhat cumbersome. An alternative I offered the publisher was the shorter "Milchemet Hazaken" (which literally translates as "The Old One's War"). I thought it sounds better, but the publisher objected, claiming it would lead people to think that the book is about Ben Gurion (our first prime minister, who was also known as "The Old One").
Again, it's great to see that so many people here, including the author, excited about the translation - and based on the replies here, I think I can say that, as far as the text on the cover goes, I did my job right :-)
Translating "Old Man's War" was a great experience, and I hope to have the chance to work on "The Ghost Brigades" in the future.

Jeff Hentosz | September 2, 2006 09:35 AM

So, Raz:

Inquiring minds want to know (well, actually, juvenile ones do), what's the name of Perry's BrainPal in Hebrew? :-D

Raz Greenberg | September 2, 2006 02:14 PM

Perry's BrainPal Hebrew name is "Tembel", which is not a literal translation of the original (no reference to the same part in the human body's anatomy - or any other part, for that matter), but the meaning is close enough (well, actually closer to "Jerk" if you want a reverse translation).

John Scalzi | September 2, 2006 02:49 PM

What?!?!? Taking liberties with my precious, precious text???!?!

That's actually the part of the translation process that I find most interesting -- places where idiom or slang in one language has to be changed to something close to equivalent (but etymologically different) in another.

Raz Greenberg | September 2, 2006 03:28 PM

Well, you'll be glad to hear that I had something of an argument with the published about keeping "Apartatchick" in its original form. And I won that argument :-)
I get a funny feeling I should probably stop posting this kind of stuff here if I want to keep my job...

Jeff Hentosz | September 2, 2006 03:47 PM

Sorry, Raz. I don't want you to get in trouble. But if you do, just say some tembel in Ohio started it.

mythago | September 2, 2006 06:33 PM

Please tell me that somebody's BrainPal got named "alterkocker".

I mean, thousands of Jewish kids get them at birth; why not a SF author in his 30s then?

'Cuz he's not Jewish.

Mostly irrelevant trivia that the native Hebrew speakers can confirm or deny: the Hebrew words for war (milchamah) and bread (lechem) come from the same linguistic root.

Yaron | September 3, 2006 06:35 AM

John, that part of the translation, of having to change slang and idioms, is also one of the things most off-putting about translations. At least for readers who can read the source language.
Because no matter how good the translation is, or what choice the translator makes (i.e. more literal, or more semantic), it's a lose-lose situation and they got a part wrong.
So it will almost always be jarring to read, and give the sense that the translator screwed up. Even if the reader couldn't come with a better alternative, or knows that the direction is a matter of taste.

Mythago, true, but base linguistic roots in Hebrew are three characters (for longer and more complex nouns, the root used for verbs is some condensed version of three letters. If there isn't a verb, and the noun is long, it may be less well defined, of course. But most nouns are "verbable". Bread doesn't have a verb, but the noun is three letters).
This means that there are plenty of words with the same root, some which are etymologically related and some which aren't.
For the same root as these two, war and bread, the same root is also used for soldering (a soldering iron is "malchem"), for example.
Whether the three have any etymological connection, though, I don't know. Sounds very doubtful, but stranger things have happened.

mythago | September 4, 2006 02:54 PM

Whether the three have any etymological connection, though, I don't know.

As it was told to me (by a rabbi who studied linguistics), the two actually have the same etymological origin. My Hebrew's far too rusty for me to confirm or deny. (Back in college we used to refer to learning Hebrew as "Follow the dancing consonants".)

that part of the translation, of having to change slang and idioms, is also one of the things most off-putting about translations

Well, you know what the French say about translations.

Yaron | September 8, 2006 03:58 PM

OK, I'll bite.
What DO the French say about translations?

gestibar | February 12, 2007 10:08 PM

nice :)

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